June 4, 2008

Hitch

Oh, and I do not “profess” to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

From “Just one question,” The Guardian, May 27, 2008. Part of a longer piece in which luminaries at The Guardian Hay festival ask each other questions. The full classic Hitchens comment is after the jump.

(Via Margaret)

Julia Neuberger, rabbi and Lib Dem peer asks Christopher Hitchens, journalist, critic and author

Q Why are you so angry about religion? Don’t you think your very fervour – and certainty – make you just like the religious extremists you profess to despise. And where’s the room for doubt in your analysis?

A Oh Christ, not this one again. Anthony Grayling puts it definitively out of its misery in Against All Gods, reprinted as his contribution to The Portable Atheist (ed. C Hitchens) entitled Can an Atheist be a Fundamentalist?

If I may, I will borrow his conclusion: “Any view of the world which does not premise the existence of something supernatural is a philosophy, or a theory or, at worst, an ideology. If it is either of the first two, at its best it proportions what it accepts to the evidence for accepting it, knows what would refute it, and stands ready to revise itself in the light of new evidence. This is the essence of science. It comes as no surprise that no wars have been fought, pogroms carried out or burnings conducted at the stake over rival theories in biology or astrophysics.”

Clear? It’s not a matter of “room” for doubt. The whole analytical method of humanist materialism is based on scepticism. We take nothing on faith. Imagine what a fortune could be made by a palaeontologist who unearthed human bones and dinosaur bones in the same layer of sediment. I will bet my house that this discovery will not be made, but my bet is not entirely, or at all, an article of belief. It is, rather, a conviction based on the study of evidence.

As to the manner in which I express myself, it rather depends on the antagonist. I’m normally renowned for my patience and good humour, but I admit to being easily bored and, when I come up against, say, a self-righteous rabbi, can be tempted to succumb to sarcasm. I think that may be where your confusion arises. Oh, and I do not “profess” to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

comments

  1. Cindy Scroggins on June 4th, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Can someone explain to me why I have such a thing for men with anger problems? Christopher Hitchens just amuses me no end.

  2. Daryl Scroggins on June 4th, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Oh I love this whole paragraph:

    As to the manner in which I express myself, it rather depends on the antagonist. I’m normally renowned for my patience and good humour, but I admit to being easily bored and, when I come up against, say, a self-righteous rabbi, can be tempted to succumb to sarcasm. I think that may be where your confusion arises. Oh, and I do not “profess” to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

    And The Portable Atheist he edited is wonderful reading. I keep it on my bedside table as a comfort.

  3. India on June 4th, 2008 at 9:43 am

    I don’t think I’d characterize it as an anger problem; more of an anger gift.

    Hitchens is adorable, rather like the notoriously vicious marmot, but I suspect he can be something of a liability as a friend—one might find oneself trying to steer him out of parties by the elbow rather often.

  4. Cindy Scroggins on June 4th, 2008 at 10:03 am

    But, here’s the thing: In my world (which is all that really matters, of course), I’m always the one being led out of the party by the elbow (or out of the museum, or out of the courtroom). And I’m generally known for being kind and empathetic. For some reason, though, I tend to make scenes in public places, especially when aggressively stupid people try to impose their views on me. Rather like Hitchens, I guess, I’m often tempted to succumb to sarcasm. And foul language.

    Maybe I like men with anger problems because I am one.

  5. Back slowly out the door — then run like hell : clusterflock on June 4th, 2008 at 10:45 am

    [...] (rather brilliantly) characterized as the “anger problem gift” of Christopher Hitchens, India went on to speculate on his liabilities as a friend. ” . . . one might find oneself trying to steer him out of [...]

  6. Jeff Ventura on June 4th, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    If you ever get bored with fuffy horseshit TV (Family Guy, The Office, and most of Adult Swim excepted), get a tea, get comfy, and go here.

    Ahhh. Nice, isn’t it?

  7. Jeff Ventura on June 4th, 2008 at 2:40 pm
  8. Sheila Ryan on June 4th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Funny you should mention. We unloaded two TVs last year. All gone.

    But we still subscribe to a basic cable package. I’ve routed it through a DVD player/VCR/sound system set-up, so every now and again — usually when a golf tournament is on — we can hook up the projector and watch White Wall TV.

  9. India on June 4th, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Funny—I was already planning to throw my TV away. But in any case, I need very little HitchTV to be content. The last five seconds of this clip will do, in fact.

  10. Mark Hurty on June 4th, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    I have faith that one day C. Hitchens will get over himself.

  11. India on June 5th, 2008 at 6:56 am

    I dunno, Mark, that can’t possibly be a conviction based on the study of evidence.

  12. Mark Hurty on June 5th, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Like Hitchens, Paul despised Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus. Virulent anti-theism is not proof of one’s immunity against a spiritual conversion. ;-)

  13. Andrew Simone on June 5th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    He actually going to be in St. Louis, sometime soon, for a debate. While I hate those sorts of things (“things” equaling “people such events attract”) it might be amusing to hear him live.

    That said, as much as I like the snark and the snide, it is people like Hitchens that nobody in the academy ever takes seriously. The man simply lacks professionalism.

  14. Cindy Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    That’s why most of us don’t give a shit about the academy.

  15. India on June 5th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    ’Tis true.

    I think it’s safe to say that 95 percent of the people I like and respect most lack professionalism.

  16. Andrew Simone on June 5th, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    In many ways, Cindy and India, that’s why I left.

  17. Cindy Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Andrew, Daryl and I are both tied to the academy by profession, but I think I can safely say that the most intelligent, insightful people either of us has known is so despite any ties to academia. By the same token, the most frightened, insecure, credential-clinging losers I have known are, to a person, firmly rooted in the academy. This is not to say that I consider academia in itself to be problematic–many great things come out of academic environments. But some real shit comes out of them, too.

  18. Daryl Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Virulent anti-theism is not proof of one’s immunity against a spiritual conversion. It’s true, Mark–weakness and fear sometimes muddle minds right at the end. And an even more insidious turn of events sometimes occurs: people die, and somebody present at his or her deathbed comes away saying that there was a last minute conversion (when it’s too late for the dead person to object). This seems in keeping with the way so many Christians allow their own needs to produce the truth that they want. I wonder: if Paul had had another stroke, on his way back from Damascus, that returned him to his original state of mind–would we now know him from Adam? For Christians it only works in one direction, and those who don’t conform, as the moment’s theology demands, are deleted.

  19. Deron Bauman on June 5th, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Daryl, I was going to say seizure, but stroke’s good too ;)

  20. Cindy Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    You say seizure, I say stroke.
    You say please her, I say poke.
    Seizure, stroke,
    Please her, poke

    Let’s call the whole thing off?

  21. Amy Mabli on June 5th, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    India, thanks for that video link. I especially like the last thing Hitchens says, “If you gave Falwell an enema, he would have been buried in a matchbox”.

  22. India on June 5th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Yes, those are the five seconds I mean. A friend asserts that it’s the second best thing ever broadcast on television. The first best thing is, arguably, Mark E. Smith reading football scores. Should you prefer a non–a cappella version, that’s here.

  23. sc on June 5th, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    It’s not just that he says “If you gave Falwell an enema, he would have been buried in a matchbox.” It’s that he says it to Sean Hannity, on FOX, while arguing with Ralph Reed (remind me again why Reed isn’t in jail) the day after Fallwell’s death. He just casually mumbles it, half afterthought, half last word.

  24. Mark Hurty on June 5th, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    @Daryl : I agree with you about the nature of deathbed conversion, and about the propensity of christian apologists to recall only those conversions that are useful to their position.

    Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus was not a deathbed conversion, though.

  25. Daryl Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus was not a deathbed conversion, though. Indeed. He was born again in a way that was proof against his formerly questioning mind.

  26. Mark Hurty on June 5th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    He was born again in a way that was proof against his formerly questioning mind. Are you saying that Paul no longer had a questioning mind after being born again? Or that his doubt was replaced by faith? Does it follow that a person of faith has no questions?

  27. Deron Bauman on June 5th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I won’t speak for Daryl, Mark. My sense of it is the church his transformation was based on would not exist if it were presumed Paul / Saul had a questioning mind after the conversion. That’s not the way he presents it.

  28. Daryl Scroggins on June 5th, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Mark: Deron can speak for me anytime; he has a lovely way with words! And this issue is the very one that causes so many Christians to trot out the argument that atheists are being dogmatic too!–which isn’t even any kind of an answer to the charge of being dogmatic. The difference is: a Christian must believe that his or her faith is unshakable–and this allows any number of questions to be asked, but always with the prior understanding that the answers must conform with what was believed to begin with. Those who are lodged in this mode naturally see it as the only way of being, and thus also tend to see unbelievers as actually believers who don’t believe–as opposed to people who don’t accept the need to accept such limitations at the start. An atheist, given compelling reasons to change his or her views, would; a Christian, given similar reasons for changing out of Christianity, wouldn’t. So who is the more questioning of the two, and who is more aptly referred to as dogmatic?

  29. Mark Hurty on June 6th, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Faith and reason are not parallel constructs.

  30. Daryl Scroggins on June 6th, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Faith and reason are not parallel constructs.

    Yes Mark, for Christians they are a matter of bait and switch: argue in a reasonable way until backed into a corner; then claim the authority of faith; and then slip back over into reason when the coast is clear. And note, too, the hyperbolic use of logicians’ jargon–as if the semblance of vast erudition will reinforce claims that otherwise depend upon the marginality of all such efforts. What really matters, for a Christian, is that private little experience in one’s own heart, and the smug certainty that “nobody is really in a position to say I’m wrong about my own revelation.”

  31. Mark Hurty on June 7th, 2008 at 12:04 am

    Daryl — Obviously the intended humor in my comment about Hitchen’s conversion has been lost in the extended conversation. Or, perhaps, it just wasn’t funny. In either case, I apologize if I touched a nerve. I’ll retreat now, not entirely certain that nobody is really in a position to say I’m wrong.